A gentleman in Verona, and two 3 star meals

Monday, May 07th , 2012

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Verona is a very attractive city in the north of Italy, between Milan and Venice. You can fly directly there from London, and it is a handy base to visit a couple of Italy’s top restaurants, as well as having some good places of its own. We stayed in the heart of the old town, at a charming boutique hotel called Sogna e Giuletta. Verona has a fine Roman arena, home to open air opera at the height of summer, as well as several fine churches and other monuments (pictured). It is a fairly compact city, and easy to explore on foot.

In Verona itself I tried two restaurants. Osteria la Fontanina is a charming little family restaurant that has a Michelin star, but is a long way from popular perceptions of a Michelin-starred restaurant. The place is tiny, with the chef cooking the dishes and bringing them to the table himself, his wife dealing with the wine and taking the orders. The food is very much of the region, with simple dishes based around seasonal ingredients. The best dish was a genuinely top class guinea fowl main course, and in general the food was of a good standard, the service friendly and the wine cheap.

The most celebrated restaurant in Verona is Il Desco, which has two Michelin stars. It is a little grander, but still very much a family restaurant, with father and son in the kitchen and the chef’s wife leading the service. The pea risotto in particular was superb here, and in general the dishes were very good. The food again focused on the key ingredients of the region, and was quite traditional. Wine markups were wildly generous if you are used to the UK.

An hour or so by car from Verona in Modena is Osteria Francescana, a very much more modern Italian restaurant. Massimo Bottura made his name by his modern interpretations of Italian dishes, but the menu offers both very modern dishes and more classical ones.  When we spoke to him at the end of the meal he indicated that he was now interested in going back to the classics and championing the cooking and ingredients of the region, saying that the days of chefs using chemicals in cooking are “over”, in his view.  We sampled a mix of his styles, and I was impressed with both his more technical modern dishes, but also his ability to perfect traditional regional ones.  This was clearly a top class restaurant, with some really fine elements in the meal.

It seemed unlikely that we would have a better meal on the trip, yet we did. It is many years since I had been to Le Calandre, which is also about an hour from Verona by car. Its young head chef produced a really dazzling meal, with dish after dish of superb quality, based on stunning ingredients and flawless technical skill. It was noticeable how simple many of the dishes were e.g. a risotto was just that, with no modern “twist”, but what an utterly perfect risotto it was. It is very rare, in my experience, for even a 3 star meal to maintain an essentially perfect standard for dish after dish after dish, yet this one did.  Le Calandre is one of the best restaurants in the world, and this was one of the best meals I can remember in a long time. If you have not been then I would urge you to try Le Calandre.